Does Mellon's Grant to Center Theatre Group Point to the Future of Nonprofit Theatre?

Funders like groups that embrace buzz words like "technology," "collaboration," and "integration." But very often, these concepts remain vague and opaque. So when a theatre group in Southern California puts these principles into action and nets $1 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the process, we can't help but pay attention. Such is the case with the Culver City-based Center Theatre Group.

The group was awarded a four-year, $1 million Mellon grant enabling them to create "contemporary work from ensembles, devisers, and writers, supporting the creative arc from commissioning through development and production." What's more, this recent award came on the heels of a 2009 Mellon grant supporting the development of non-text based work. In other words, five years later, Mellon liked what they saw and threw down $1 million to support the theatre's next phase of programming.

So what is it about the theatre's programming that makes it so unique? And more specifically, how do they effectively tie together all those buzz words we mentioned in the opening paragraph? For starters, the group's mission statement eschews the concept of traditional theatre. It "combines performance, technology, imagery, music, heightened text and often, but not exclusively, a non-linear narrative."

That said, it also doesn't shy away from classical productions—it's currently running "Porgy and Bess"—or Broadway smashes. In other words, the group provides a richly diverse array of productions whereby "the hits" help support smaller plays like "Hope," which examines the diaspora of Mexicans in the US in the 1960s. To that end, the group supports new play production from Los Angeles playwrights. Its site encourages writers to submit a brief description of their work to the theater for consideration.

Ultimately, the group's model of traditional and experimental works, coupled with local education offering and script solicitations, can inspire counterparts in other large cities.